It is that time of year again when eighty-one of the top speech competitors from around the world prepare for the biggest speech of their lives. They are the semi-finalists competing in this year’s World Championship of Public Speaking. There are also thousands of speech competitors who are licking their wounds wondering where they went wrong or worse, blaming the judges. Otis William’s Jr.’s advice still rings through my head, “Be so good, the only question is who comes in second.”
Brilliant advice is easy to remember because it changes your perspective. Changing other people’s perspective comes from wisdom. Often, wisdom comes from experience. People who reach the top in their industry often have “universal advice” that permeates any industry. Anyone who competes needs to hear the advice from this rock star on competing.
First though, a little background. Growing up in Boston, Steven Tyler, lead singer of Aerosmith, was “our” rock star. People in Boston saw his rise from the beginning, and I remember hearing about him playing in the local clubs before Aerosmith “made it.” I vividly remember my big brother listening to their song “Dream On.”
Steven formed the band in 1969, and in 1972, he and his band signed with Columbia Records. They released fourteen studio albums, nine of which reached platinum or multi-platinum. Whether you like him or not, he achieved huge success in his chosen field. One of my favorite bits of trivia, Aerosmith did not get a US Billboard #1 Hit until 1998. It was their ballot, “I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing” featured in the film, Armageddon.
Lesson one for speech competitors. Even if Aerosmith never had a US Billboard #1 Hit, you have still probably heard their songs. They did what they loved long before they hit #1. Do not let the competition alone define your success. You can still speak professionally. You can also work on getting your Accredited Speaker (Toastmasters) or C.S.P. (National Speakers Association) designation. It breaks my heart when I see great speakers with a message never deliver it outside of Toastmasters. People need to hear your story.
Steven Tyler has said and done some wild things. “I went through four hours of hair and makeup to listen to this bull—t?” — complaining about the background noise at the USS Midway location for the San Diego auditions. He’s said some crazy things as a judge on American Idol. He also said something in an interview I saw that was so brilliant that it felt like he jumped out of the TV screen and shook me.
I was flipping through channels and came across an interview with him on Oprah’s network. Oprah had gone to his lake house to sit down with him and asked him some tough questions. His answers were honest and insightful. He spoke openly about the passing of his dad and the demons he still battles today.
What really made me sit up and lean in was when he started talking about the contestants on American Idol, where he was a judge. Though his antics and statements on the show are controversial, his wisdom during this interview was insightful. It came from years of experience and overcoming challenges. Sometimes, we forget that our celebrities of today were people who had dreams and struggled though challenges in years past to achieve them.
Steven Tyler said that on the show he had to turn people away who have potential. He also said that many people had more talent than he did when he started. Wow. That is a statement, and he meant it. What really got me was when he said, “What I’m judging people on is who is the American Idol right now.” He said he was not judging who has potential. He is not making or breaking careers. He is simply judging who has the talent to be the best the day that he sees them.
He continued, “What they need is to go back into the clubs and fall down and get up again. They fall down and learn to get up again.” What I believe he was indirectly saying was that they need to learn to grow their talent through the best teacher of all… experience. Stage time is the best teacher and confidence builder.
Personally, I believe when you go through it,
you grow through it.
People want their version 3.0 without releasing their version 1.0. I know that I became successful as a speaker because I was willing to look bad in order to get good.
Whether you are an emerging speaker, a speech contestant, or someone with a dream, one point in time doesn’t determine your success. It is our continued growth. Being on American Idol may help your career, but it is not the “be all and end all.” Winning, or not winning, a speech contest does not define you. It only brings clarity to one point in time. Getting a highly paid speech or losing that speech to someone else is only one point in time. It truly is our commitment to learning through experience that will determine whether we “make it” or not. If we do not get the outcome we desire, could it be we need to “go back to the clubs” and fall down again? If you are not willing to, I assure you someone else is willing to learn the lesson and get the prize.
In 1998, I entered a Humorous Speech Contest and came in second to someone who did not have completely original material. I did not have the confidence to contest its originality. Instead, my plan was to boycott Toastmasters speech contests. I did for two years. A funny thing happened, Toastmasters went on without me. When I grew up and realized the value of the competition was in my own personal growth, I realized I couldn’t lose. That was why I competed again in 2001. I had to go back to the clubs and learn to get up again.
If it took Aerosmith that many years to get a number one hit, even though they were already considered a success, what about you? What is your “hit song” or that signature story that may still be germinating inside you? Is it possible you gave up too soon? What if life is challenging you to grow and seeing how serious you are about holding your dream in your hand? What if your best song / speech is still inside you and it will take a defeat to let you find it? Would you want that defeat or not?
Source: Steven Tyler image from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steven_tyler
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